The Dead Heart  

Posted by Big Gav

While I've spent a lot of time mocking various fear campaigns over the years, its not often that I've thought the mainstream media has overdone an environmental issue - however I was getting an uneasy feeling today looking at all the papers - everything from the "Australian Financial Review" down to the "Daily Terror" had front cover articles suggesting Australia was about to turn into a barren, lifeless dust bowl within the next couple of weeks.

When I wandered into the corner shop tonight to pick up some milk the guy behind the counter started ranting about the price of fruit and vegetables rising by 500% over the next year and how he was going to be driven out of business - obviously he'd been looking at his pile of copies of The Terror - with a full cover picture of some dried out mud and the headline "The Dead Heart" - all day and the fear had gotten to him.

I guess the benefit of making fun of "Power of Nightmares" addicted politicians and having read vast quantities of peak oil (and to a lesser extent) global warming apocaphilia over a period of time is that I don't take this sort of thing all that seriously - especially when all the hysteria seemed to be driven by a speech from the Rodent seeking to gain control over national water supply regulation from the states.

Of course, even if the media blitz today was overdone, we are going to suffer from global warming and the result of our farming practices - these problems should have received a higher priority years ago and Howard should have taken a lot more stick for his "do nothing" approach to global warming over that period. He still won't accept that the drought and global warming are linked it seems.

From The Terror's lead article "Big dry to hit consumer pockets 'immediately'"" today :

* Fruit, veges, nut, milk price rise 'almost immediately'
* Price rises comparable to banana crisis
* Cleanskin and bargain wines 'unavailable'

After drought-weary farmers in the Murray-Darlin Basin were yesterday told to prepare to turn off their taps, it's not only those on the land who should be praying for rain Australia's water crisis will hit consumers hard, with experts predicting the price of fruit and vegetables, nuts, milk and wine will soar. While farmers would not speculate how far prices would rise, they agreed price rises would be linked to the length of time it took to rain. Prices are expected to begin rising within weeks.

And "Water shortage signs 'known for decades'" :
WARNING signs for the severe water shortages now facing Murray-Darling Basin irrigators have been known for decades, a South Australian water expert said today.

Former chief water scientist with SA Water, Professor Don Bursill, said today the river system had been exploited since the 1970s and measures to counter the stress on it could have been taken years ago. “The Murray-Darling Basin has been under stress for 20 or 30 years and in that time, unfortunately, we have increased our extraction, particular in the irrigation area,” Prof Bursill said in Adelaide today. “I would have thought that we could have taken steps a long time ago to return the system to sustainability without having to wait until such a severe drought.”

Prime Minister John Howard yesterday warned irrigators water would not be allocated from July unless substantial rain fell in the basin soon.

The SYdney Morning Herald's lead article was "For millions the water will stop midyear", with the closing paragraphs hinting at the real reason for the sudden surge of interest in the topic. Also see "Turnbull's embarrassing u-turn" and "Drought may force food imports: PM" - while The Australian has "Food prices 'will soar' if irrigation switched off", "Murray-Darling plan 'will work without Victoria'", "Turnbull backs down on Victoria water threat", "Murray running on empty" and "Editorial: No rain means big pain for everyone".
JOHN HOWARD has urged everyone to pray for rain after warning that the millions of people along the Murray-Darling Basin will have only enough water for basic domestic use from the middle of the year. The Murray-Darling Basin is the country's food bowl, and irrigators and winemakers warn that food and wine prices will soar, while economists fear heavy local job losses.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that unless there is substantial rain within a month, there would be no water allocations for irrigation or environmental flows from July 1. "We should all pray for rain," he said. The looming catastrophe will directly affect the 50,000 farmers who depend on the river system for their livelihoods as well as the millions in Adelaide and the numerous towns along the basin, which stretches from southern Queensland to South Australia.

Mr Howard said it was hard to estimate the exact overall economic impact of the crisis. "We know already that the drought has taken up to three-quarters to 1 per cent off our [economic] growth. The longer it goes on, the harder the impact," he said. The Government would increase drought assistance already available to farmers, putting further pressure on the budget.

Mr Howard said a report commissioned last November to audit the effects of the drought along the basin showed the situation to be "unprecedentedly dangerous". "Unless there are very substantial inflows - and for that, read heavy rain leading to run-off in the catchment areas - prior to mid-May 2007, there will be insufficient water available (from July 1) for irrigation, the environment or for any other purposes other than critical urban supplies," he said.

Farmers living along the river would be allowed to draw only water for personal needs. There was a "potentially devastating impact" on horticulture, including grapes, citrus, stone fruit and apples, as well as the dairy industry and vegetable growers. Winemakers say next year's vintage could be crippled, and the Irrigation Association of Australia said food prices would soar. ...

Mr Howard continued to dispute whether the drought was linked to climate change, but said the crisis underscored the need for Victoria to ratify his $10 billion Commonwealth takeover of the Murray-Darling Basin, which aims to make water use along the basin sustainable.

But the Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, refused to budge. He said Victorian irrigators were already aware that they faced having no water allocations next financial year.

One last quote from The Herald - "The end to land of milk and money".
NESTLED between forests of red gum and Australia's mightiest inland river, Phil O'Neill's dairy farm is called Murray Eden. Its grasses are usually outrageously lush, the cows sleek with groaning udders. "I don't like to blow my own trumpet, but it's pretty well known through the Barham district as one of the prettiest farms when things are right," Mr O'Neill said.

But things are not right. The Eden comes courtesy of irrigation water from the Murray River. Catchment inflows are the lowest on record and the dairy industry takes almost 40 per cent of the water used in food production in Australia. "Without water, we are basically living in a desert here," Mr O'Neill said of his farm on the NSW side of the river, about 65 kilometres downstream of Moama. "We get less than 13 inches [330 millimetres of rainfall per year on average]. It's dusty and you can see where the hay trails are [for feeding the cows] and basically bloody dirt."

If there is no irrigation water available over the next year, dairies such as Mr O'Neill's and vast permanent plantings of grapes and citrus along the Murray could disappear, shattering rural towns that rely on them. For Mr O'Neill, the Prime Minister's words of doom and gloom about the Murray-Darling yesterday came as no surprise. ...

Meanwhile The Rodent is still trying to push the "clean green nuclear power" myth while ignoring better policies like investing in smart grids, renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Nuclear energy is "a source of hope" and "part of the future for all mankind", according to Prime Minister John Howard.

Opening the new $400 million nuclear science research reactor at Lucas Heights, Mr Howard gave a powerful endorsement for atomic power. "Nuclear energy, nuclear science, nuclear power is part of Australia's future," he said. "Those who seek to shut the nuclear option out of anything in relation to power generation or science or medicine in the future are really looking backwards rather than forwards. "Nuclear power is cleaner than power from coal or from gas, and as coal gets dearer as we apply technologies which produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, then inevitably it will become more economic to use nuclear power."

Mr Howard backed claims by Dr Ziggy Switkowski, chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Research Organisation (ANSTO), that the reactor, dubbed OPAL, was "Sydney's third icon," after the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

Only a handful of demonstrators protested against the opening, parking a tanker, dressed up as a nuclear waste truck, outside.


"After 50 years of reactor operations at Lucas Heights," said Holly Creenaune, the nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth, "there is still no safe way to store nuclear waste. "The Federal Government proposal to impose a nuclear waste dump on communities in the Northern Territory could see radioactive waste transported from Lucas Heights through NSW for the next 40 years, exposing communities along the transport route to risk of spill and contamination."

The convenor of People against a Nuclear Reactor, Genevieve Kelly, asked if the reactor was safe, "why has the Howard government refused to provide unconditional liability in the event of an accident affecting residents or they property?

6 comments

Anonymous   says 4:20 AM

Despite Howard's recent comments there really is no need for nuclear power plants in Australia because there is a simple mature technology available that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.

I refer to 'concentrating solar power' (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salt or other substance so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and, of course, these are not always nearby! But with transmission losses at only about 3% per 1000 km, it is entirely feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity throughout Australia from the Australian desert using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. A small portion of the Australian desert would be sufficient to meet all of the country's needs for electricity.

Waste heat from electricity generation in a CSP plant can be used to create fresh water by desalination of sea water: a very useful by-product in arid regions.

In the 'TRANS-CSP' report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind and solar power throughout Europe.

Further information about CSP may be found at www.trec-uk.org.uk and www.trecers.net .

Peter Jones

Thanks Peter - I do mention CSP frequently as one of the most important components of our energy supply in future.

And we've got no shortage of desert here...

TechnoFreak   says 1:35 PM

I wonder if any of the cow-cockies with big V8 Holden utes will be quietly removing those bumper stickers from their utes...??

You know, the ones that say something like..."Keep Australia Green, plant a hippie"....or something like that ;)

Big Gav, What your email there? I am at danbloom AT gmail DOT com.
Wanna chat with you re POLAR CITIES. Thanks

http://climatechange3000.blogspot.com

Has anyone specifically started planning or designing these polar cities envisioned by james Lovelock?

CSP is no substitute for nuclear energy!

Concentrating Solar Power (or CSP) is inefficient, expensive, and has notable environmental impacts.

Inefficient
According to the California Energy Commission ( http://www.energy.ca.gov/electricity/gross_system_power.html ), all of the utility-generated solar power in the state amounts to two-tenths of one percent of the state's electricity production. Because of the limited availability of sunlight, these systems have notoriously low capacity factors and therefore cannot be relied upon for baseload power.

Expensive
According to the California Energy Commission ( http://www.energy.ca.gov/electricity/comparative_costs.html ), at 13 to 42 cents per kWhr, solar power is *the* most expensive way to generate electricity. In a time when energy prices are skyrocketing, few people can afford a large-scale conversion to solar power. What's more, due to its low capacity factors, solar capacity must be backed up with additional stand-by power generation, which adds to the overall cost of solar.

Environmental impact
Solar collectors also require a huge area of land, which must be dedicated to solar generation. Even in the desert, this could disrupt the delicate ecology. Additionally, in order for the salts to remain molten at night, CSP requires fossil fuels to be burned for heat. According to a US Department of Energy study ( http://www.nrel.gov/docs/gen/fy98/24496.pdf ), these systems are "hybridized" with up to 25% natural gas. Ironically, this renewable technology is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions!

Nevertheless, concentrating solar technology, along with many other renewable power sources such as wind, tidal, and geothermal, should continue to be supported in hopes that a breakthrough will someday allow them to be a significant source of energy generation. Today however, CSP is no replacement for baseload energy generation sources. In the medium term, we cannot abandon the proven, effective, and efficient source of low-emission energy that nuclear power has to offer. To learn more about the benefits of nuclear energy, check out http://www.nei.org/index.asp?catnum=1&catid=11 and http://www.casenergy.org/WhyNuclear/TheBasics/tabid/66/Default.aspx

Michael Stuart

Thanks for the nuclear industry ad Michael, but I'm afraid all your claims are false.

CSP is just getting started - it is already cost competitive with nuclear power once you factor in all the externalities.

Once it becomes a standard mechanism for large scale power generation (and there are large new plants going into production, like the Spanish plant near Seville which just went live) now with much bigger ones planned - see the recent Vinod Khosla announcement taking Australian CSP technology to the US for example.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6616651.stm
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2007/s1895335.htm

Claiming it has any significant impact compared to coal or nuclear is just laughable. Thermal solar plants are nowhere near the size of coal or uranium mines (or even coal fired or nuclear power stations) and the fact that they are best located in deserts (rather than next to large bodies of water that they will heat up) is a big advantage of CSP.

Your comments about baseload power is a classic example of the baseload fallacy. All power sources are intermittent (including coal and nuclear power stations) and require some form of replacement when they go down - they don't run uninterrpted for their entire lives. They also have the economic disadvantage of exposure to fuel prices - rapidly rising at the present moment.

Check out these 2 links for a description of why all renewables are just as viable as traditional, dirty power sources :

http://www.sustainabilitycentre.com.au/BaseloadFallacy.pdf
http://tyler.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2007/4/26/2907157.html#903451

I believe that there is no real reason to believe solar and wind can't be "baseload". If you don't mind, I'll post a relatively long explanation.

Wind (and solar) isn't the only generation source that has variance. In fact, all sources do. Most of it (maintenance, refueling, etc) can be scheduled, but not all. Nuclear can be tripped very suddenly - it doesn't happen all that often, but when it does the plant is offline for more than one day. The size of nuclear plants, and the duration of outages amplifies the impact of the variance, such that a small market like Ireland, for instance, has ruled out nuclear.

The key is managing the variance, and reducing it to tolerable levels. As discussed, this can be done in many ways, and in much the same way as is done to match nuclear's flat output with the variation in demand.

You need:

Geographical diversity, including expanded long-distance transmission, perhaps with HVDC that has roughly 5% loss per 1000 miles). Additional LDT would make the grid more robust, and reduce the variation of wind by increasing geographic diversity and reducing the ratio of variance to mean production;

Demand management, similar to the kind of daytime demand charges that moved so much industrial/commercial consumption to the night time, thus creating "baseload".

"Baseload" itself is a bit of a misconception. Humans live in the light, and in effect have evolved to use solar energy. "Natural" night time energy use is very low. A large % of what we call "baseload" is Industrial/Commercial demand which has been shifted from daytime to night time by very simple Demand Side Management (DSM): charging higher rates, or "demand charges" for peak daytime usage.

DSM could be easily expanded. The first, obvious place to start is eliminating flat pricing for residential. Other steps: home electricity monitoring -- allowing homeowners, business and factory owners to track their electricity use in real time; dynamic pricing, to reflect variable costs; smart, grid-networked appliances that can modulate their electricity use based on current power availability and pricing; and utility control of those appliances.

Solar insolation is pretty nicely correlated with demand. It would require very little DSM to shift the A/C demand curve to match solar insolation.

"Negawatts" in the form of reduced demand as a result of DSM can be very cheap.The most obvious use is with plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEV's), such as the Chevy Volt series hybrid that could be charged at night and during peak production periods. PHEV storage will be cost-justified by the vehicle owner, and reduced rates for scheduled charging will be a bonus. As PHEV's expand they will provide an enormous synergy with variable sources like wind and solar;

Storage can be very cheap, and storage that is here now or will be very soon includes pumped storage and PHEV's. The Ludington, MI pumped storage facility has time-shifted nuclear production for 30 years(Pumped storage is very cheap at about .6 cents per kwhr., which is no more than a 10% cost premium for 100% storage) , and PHEV’s are certainly on their way. PHEV’s won’t arrive for several years. On the other hand, neither wind nor solar will reach a level that needs storage until then;

Backup generation capacity, such as inexpensive gas turbines for the rare extended outage, powered by gasified biomass (which is very efficient for power generation, even though very, very inefficient for liquid fuels). Remember, capacity is very cheap, if you don't have to use it often. The cost of diesel and natural gas generators is almost entirely in the fuel.

This is one big reason pumped storage hasn't been more widely used: until very recently natural gas peak capacity has been dirt cheap, and so relatively large-scale, long-term projects couldn't be justified. They often had to be paired with other large projects, like nuclear plants.

So, the upshot of the above is that wind doesn't have to be 100% reliable, just reliable enough.

As a system this would be significantly cheaper than coal, once you added in coal's external costs. Whether it would be cheaper than nuclear depends on how you value nuclear's external costs, especially the Price-Anderson liability cap, weapons proliferation risk, and opportunity costs for foregone investment in renewables.

What some have described as irrational NIMBYism and unreasonable regulatory delay is really the political process, lurching about in an effort to put a value on those external costs.


As for, "CSP requires fossil fuels to be burned for heat" - come on - are you just being disingenuous here or do you really not know what you are talking about here ?

Electric power can run heaters. Electric power can come from wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and other renewable sources. Where is the fossil fuel ? You are just spreading FUD to try and keep sunset energy industries going on for a few more years...

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